DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Among all of the Miami Dolphins, idle tackle Jonathan Martin knows the team’s new celebrity safety the best, because they played together in college.
So when Michael Thomas made a game-winning interception in his NFL debut and found himself mobbed by teammates who didn’t even know his name, Martin was quick to send a congratulatory text message, coast to coast and Stanford alum to Stanford alum.
“That means a lot,” Thomas said Tuesday. “Jonathan was one of my best friends at Stanford. I looked up to Jon.”
Thomas said Martin’s still rooting for Miami, despite his allegations of daily harassment by teammates that prompted him to leave the team in October. The bullying scandal threatened to sabotage the season, but instead the Dolphins (8-6) have gone 5-2 since Martin went home to California, and they’ll clinch a wild-card playoff berth if they win their final two games.
Low on star power, the Dolphins are winning thanks to a broad cross-section of contributors, none more improbable than Thomas.
“Michael Thomas, the new superstar,” coach Joe Philbin said Tuesday.
Undrafted out of college, Thomas joined the Dolphins last week when they signed him off the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad, where he had spent the past two seasons. Once in town, he worked with Miami’s scout squad but didn’t practice with the defense, and was expected to play only on special teams Sunday against the New England Patriots.
But when cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll left the game with injuries, nickel back Jimmy Wilson switched to corner, and Thomas found himself in the game at safety with four minutes left. He had to borrow gloves from receiver Mike Wallace.
“You try to give to the needy,” Wallace said with a laugh.
In the final minute, with Miami leading 24-20, Tom Brady tried to pull off the Patriots’ fourth consecutive comeback victory, and a completion gave them a first down at the Dolphins’ 19 with 27 seconds to go.
Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle consulted frantically with assistant coach Blue Adams, who had tutored Thomas, to find out what coverages the newcomer would be comfortable with.
“Blue is behind me in the press box and I kept asking him, ‘Does he know this? What things can we do?'” Coyle said with a laugh. “I started calling out things that I was thinking about, and Blue had a lot of confidence that Michael knew everything. He said, ‘Oh, he can do that.’ I’m like, ‘Blue, he has only been here two days.’ But he goes, ‘No, no, we’ve been over all of that. We got it. We got it. He’s smart.'”
The Dolphins twice called timeout during the final series of downs to make sure Thomas and the rest of the patchwork secondary understood the call.
Brady threw for the end zone on first down, but Thomas leaped and swatted the ball out of Danny Amendola’s grasp. After two more incompletions, Brady threw Thomas’ way again on fourth down, and he jumped again to intercept a pass intended for Austin Collie.
Thomas fell to his back, still clutching the ball as he looked to the sky. Soon he was in tears.
“I thought about all the hardships I had been through to try to get to this one moment,” he said. “Later, when I talked to my mom, it was really emotional. She had prayed for me all the time and told me, ‘Keep the faith. Keep working. You’ll get your shot. When you get it, take advantage.’ For it to actually happen was great. The whole family was crying.”
Grimes and Carroll returned to practice Tuesday, so Thomas might be relegated to special teams Sunday at Buffalo. Even so, the Dolphins newcomer is hoping he has finally found a home in the NFL.
“I moved into an apartment Monday to celebrate our victory,” he said with a grin. “So I’m here for at least another week.”
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